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    Restaurant reviews, Reviews

    Review: Searcy’s Balcony at Selfridges

    Cities are great, they’re great because there is always something happening, a sort of slow hum, the soundtrack of living.  And I like nothing more than to find somewhere to sit and appreciate this; I’d call it an abstract people watching if it didn’t sound so bloody pretentious.  It is, for me, one of the many reasons I like going out for dinner, because you can watch the action of the staff moving like they’re in a choreographed dance between tables, the clinking of cutlery and glasses, and the people watching, oh that’s always the best bit.  Everyone plays the guessing who’s on a first date game, right?

    And way up high in the skies of Selfridges in the Bullring is The Balcony, not an inventive name, I’ll give you that, but it does give you an indication of where it is.  I love that floor, because as my mum puts it I “have a thing for bags” and I like to covet them and daydream over a time I can justify buying a Mulberry Bayswater.  It is, at times, a floor that feels a bit like a museum but the restaurant itself is neatly tucked away in a corner and stretches out into the belly of the Bullring – but the view is not intrusive, it just adds a bit more life whilst giving a relaxed vibe.

    We start with a cocktail, because we’re on a floor of shoes and handbags and it’s probably the done thing here.  The cocktail menu is compact, nine alcoholic and two without, and the theme seems to be British summer time – lots of berries, fruits alongside gin and fizz.  The Goji Blush is made with organic goji berry liqueur, organic Virtuous vodka, lemon juice, honey, raspberries and Selfridges Prosecco; it’s a light, delicate drink, made well by the bartender and simple enough that most people should enjoy it.

    I honestly worried that the menu at The Balcony would be miniature bites aimed at ‘ladies what lunch’ but don’t actually seem to be interested in eating.  But thankfully they’re well thought out dishes that allow you to be as gluttonous or restrictive as you like.  Mains are classic dishes: braised shoulder of lamb, fish and chips, salmon fish cakes and the like.  There’s also a burger – we’ll get to that later though.  For starters my friend Jo-ann had the pea and ham terrine, which she enjoyed but said would’ve preferred less pea and more ham, though not ungenerous with the meat.  I had pesto gnocchi mainly because it has been a very long time since I’ve had it and I was surprised to see it on the menu, but it was a nice light version.

    For mains, Jo-ann had the braised shoulder of lamb, fondant potato and butternut squash purée and unsurprisingly I went for the Lake District beef and Applewood cheese burger with fries. Jo’s lamb was a good-sized portion and she said the lamb had been cooked well, the butternut squash puree added a nice summery look to what could’ve been a more wintery dish. My burger was delicious, the smokey applewood cheese gave it a lovely flavour and the bun was toasted but still pliable…all in all a very decent burger and one I’d be happy to go back for. The miniature mayo and ketchup pots were a nice touch and the fries were of a good standard.

    The Oreo cheesecake that Jo-ann had looked lovely, but also seemingly a little tough to crack through the base – I’m not sure if that’s a good or a bad thing.  I went for the stick toffee pudding, another classic dish on the menu, which had a lovely caramel flavour and the toffee sauce had a perfect touch of saltiness to cut through the sugar. Delightful.

    For a menu that I expected to be all a bit ‘ladies what lunch’ this was a surprise. Sure, you’re paying more because of the location and associated exclusivity, but the portions are a reasonable size and the menu is largely fairly classic, well-known dishes done well using nice ingredients. For those people who want to eat well but dislike the hectic crowds that can sometimes descend on the Bullring, the Balcony is a good place to seek refuge, if you don’t mind paying a little for it.

    The Balcony at Selfridges, Bullring, Moor Street Queensway, Birmingham B5 4BU

    Disclaimer: I was invited down, or should that be up, to the Balcony for a complimentary meal. As ever views remain my own, because lying is too much effort to remember.

    Competition, News

    Win tickets to Masterchef winner Tim Anderson’s ‘Taste Japan’ evening

    Paul Winch-Furness / PhotographerWant to win a pair of tickets to 201 1 MasterChef winner Tim Anderson’s ‘Taste Japan’ evening at The Balcony in Selfridges Birmingham?

    Taking place on Wednesday 2nd March from 7pm, the event promises to serve up traditional Japanese dishes with a modern twist, with influences from Tim’s personal history of worldwide culinary tourism and a keen interest in food science.  Guests will be served a selection of small plates, a ramen, a dessert, and matching drinks.  Sample dishes look pretty interesting and include Kumamato ramen (noodles in nose-to-tail pork broth with garlic chips, burnt garlic oil, pork belly, tea-pickled egg, and pickled mustard greens) and banana miso ice cream with black sugar syrup, kinako and castella.

    Alice Weryk, general manager at Searcys at The Balcony, comments: “We’re thrilled to welcome Tim for what we’re sure will be an outstanding event. As the youngest ever winner, Tim is well known for his excellent performance on MasterChef, and we can’t wait to see what he cooks up on the night. For fans of Japanese cuisine, the ‘Taste Japan’ evening promises to be an unforgettable experience…”

    Tim Anderson said: “I’m excited to be hosting this event at Selfridges in Birmingham – I love ramen & I want everyone to taste how good it can be, plus show off some of my favourite dishes from the book. I can’t wait to get into the kitchen there!”

    To win a pair of tickets, just follow the instructions on the Rafflecopter below.  Of course, if you want to buy some tickets yourselves, they’re available here.

    a Rafflecopter giveaway

    Events, News

    Hemsley + Hemsley cooking demo at Selfridges this Saturday

    Jasmine and Melissa Hemsley with the SpiralizerIt seems everyone is going nuts for spiralizers and this Saturday, celebrity chef sisters will be showing shoppers at Selfridges how to spiralize like the best of them.

    Authors of bestselling cookbook The Art of Eating Well, Jasmine and Melissa Hemsley will be transforming a variety of vegetables into noodle-like spirals and showing shoppers how to include them in dishes.  The spiralizer has become a popular must-have kitchen gadget as it allows diners to swap out noodles and spaghetti for vegetable versions.  Or, if you’re me, just looks like a good excuse to play with your food.

    From 12 midday to 6pm at the cook shop on Level 1 of Selfridges Birmingham, you’ll will be able to watch the Hemsley + Hemsley Spiralizer in action as well as live cooking demos from Jasmine and Melissa Hemsley, who will be showing how to make some of their favourite recipes, including sesame chicken salad with cucumber noodles and beef ragu with courgetti.  The sisters will also sharing their top tips for eating healthily and signing copies of their books.

    Adam Hockney, general manager at Selfridges Birmingham, said: “Courgetti, along with other spiral vegetables, has taken the food world by storm, so we can’t wait for Jasmine and Melissa to show us how easy it is to make it with their Spiralizer. The sisters will also be signing copies of their bestselling book, The Art of Eating Well, which is packed full of recipes, hints and tips to use with this handy gadget.”

    Restaurant reviews

    Yo Sushi Christmas dishes

    Sushi and Christmas don’t seem an obvious mix to me, I have to admit.  But I like them both, so when Yo Sushi invited me down to check out their Christmas dishes I thought what the hell, tis the season and all.  Roz, from the Foodie Couple Blog, was also invited down so we met up and checked out how a sushi restaurant does Christmas.IMG_0932.JPG

    I’ve never been to Yo Sushi in Selfridges so the first thing that caught my eye as they snaked round the deceptively large sushi belt were the exclusive-to-Selfridges dishes, on yellow plates, naturally.  There’s quite a range of dishes, both traditional sushi and mini-portions of other Japanese dishes, so there should be something to suit everyone.  We tried a few of the Selfridges-exclusive dishes whilst we waiting for the Christmas specials to be prepared: Beef and Garlic Teriyaki, which was lovely and sticky; Fresh Crab & Mango ISO, which had a nice balance of flavour with the crab and mango; and the Scallop Katsu, which were warm but delicious although the coating was a bit thick for my liking.

    For Christmas, Yo Sushi have brought out three larger plates; Miso Black Cod, Norwegian Halibut Tataki and Deluxe Sashimi, all priced at £15 each, plus Gekkeikan Honjozo Sake with Gold Flakes for £5.  Like the good food bloggers that we are, Roz and I ordered one of each dishes to share, which I’m glad we did as I didn’t expect them to be full sized plates.

    Once the dishes had arrived the manager came over to talk us through the dishes, explaining how sushi is usually eaten, dipped in a mixture of wasabi and soy sauce. Now I know this and as much as I try, I’m just not that keen on wasabi, plus I want to taste the fish (that’s why I ordered it).  He also explained to us that the fish is delivered daily (and very early) so is nice and fresh and it certainly tastes it.  The Deluxe Sashimi plate contained a nice mix of fish; salmon, Yellowtail tuna, sweet Hokkaido scallop, tilapia and sweet Alaskan pink shrimp, which all had lovely fresh flavours.  Although given the size of the plate there was a lot of raw fish, which made it a bit much for me but perfect for sharing.  This was the same for the Norwegian Halibut Tataki which had a fantastic flavour, particularly with a squeeze of lime which came as the garnish.  Of the three though, the Miso Black Cod was my favourite; the fish was had a lovely flavour from the miso and sake marinade and the garlic tender-stem broccoli had a nice kick to it.

    Yo Sushi’s Christmas specials are on sale through to the first week in January which means there’s still plenty of time to try them out.  They’re full-sized dishes, so I’d recommend grabbing some friends and ordering a range of dishes between you to get the full experience.  Sadly it was a bit too early in the day for me to try the sake with gold leaf, but I like how inventive they’ve been with Selfridge’s treasure theme.

    http://www.yosushi.com/

    Disclosure: Yo Sushi invited myself and Roz down to try the new Christmas specials.  All dishes were complimentary in exchange for an honest review, I wasn’t obliged to write anything nice. Also, yeah that is almost a line from TVM, I couldn’t help myself.

    Drinks, Events, News

    Bespoke Bombay Sapphire bottles this Saturday

    bombaysapphireIf you’re feeling a bit stuck about what to get someone for Christmas and want to avoid the impersonal bottle of plonk, then Bombay Sapphire has your back as they’ll be doing personal engraving on bottles purchased in Selfridges this Saturday.

    Head down to the Wine Shop in Selfridges on Saturday, between midday and 8pm, to have a Bombay Sapphire hand-engrave something nice on one of their crystal-blue bottles.  It’ll cost £29.99 for the bottle of gin and the hand-engraving, which is pretty good for a unique Christmas gift.

    Personally I’m a much bigger fan of gin than I am wine, so this sounds like a pretty neat idea to me – plus with a certain hazelnut chocolate spread offering customised jars in The Bullring too, you’ve pretty much got Christmas evening sorted right there.

    www.bombaysapphire.com

    Drinks, News, Pub and Drinks News

    Starbucks Red Cups come early to Brum

    Starbucks_056There are certain signs that Christmas is on its way; Cocoa Cola TV adverts, Christmas lights switch ones and the return of festive mugs in coffee shops.  So when I heard Starbucks in Birmingham’s Selfridges was launching their red cups a little early to coincide with the department store’s Christmas launch, I couldn’t help but go find out more.

    With Selfridges choosing a treasure theme for this year’s Christmas display, Starbucks have followed suit in their two in-store venues (the other being in London).  This means that as well as the red cups making a return early, the store has some exclusives including gold merchandise and gold sprinkles, which I was a bit too enthusiastic about (glittery sprinkles make everything better).

    Now I consider coffee to be two different things; stuff I’ll drink neat with nothing added to it, and what I call ‘Disco Coffee’ – coffee, mainly lattes, with flavoured syrups.  If I’m in Starbucks it’s nearly always because I’m ordering a Disco Coffee.  So trying their new Christmas blend coffee neat was a new experience for me.  I found it a lot more drinkable than their regular filter coffee (which I’ve tried once and instantly vowed never again); it doesn’t taste as bitter and unusually tickles the sides of the tongue, which was kinda fun.  I’ve been given some to take home, so I’ll be giving this another try.

    Hot choc with gold sprinklesTheir new drink this year is the Honey and Almond Hot Chocolate.  I had mine with soya milk and for someone who’s not overly keen on hot chocolate, I managed to drink the lot – the sweetness offset by my lack of lunch.  There’s a definite and delicious nuttiness from the almond syrup which is complemented by the honey.  It wasn’t too rich or sickly sweet either, which made it a nice little indulgence, though I don’t think you’d want to drink too many unless you were looking to gain a Santa style belly.  Also, mine was covered in gold sprinkles which are always going to help win me round.

    There were some other Disco Coffee drinks returning; Eggnog, Toffee Nut and (my personal favourite) Gingerbread lattes.  I was surprised to hear that Starbucks estimate there are 80.000 different ways to customise their drinks, so next time I find myself in one I’m going to try a gingerbread hot chocolate.

    The red cups return to Starbucks UK stores officially on 4th November, with reward card holders being able to get them from the 30th October if they ask nicely.  This means I just need to see a ‘Holidays are Coming’ advert and Christmas is officially on its way.

    http://www.starbucks.co.uk/

    Disclosure: I was invited down to Starbucks in Selfridges and given products to try, free of charge, in exchange for an honest review.  I wasn’t obliged to give a positive review, which you’ve probably realised from my views on their filter coffee.  Photos belong to Starbucks and/or their PR people.

    Round ups

    July round up

    Wow, what a month July was.  Oddly, considering I managed to blog much more this month, it was also the month I seemed to end up in a lot of other cities with a weekend away in York and trips to Leamington Spa and London (no blogposts about them though).  I’ve varied some of the posts in July too, adding product reviews in among the usual reviews, recipes and round ups.

    Recipes20140721-142354-51834649.jpg

    A bit of naughty and nice with just two recipes this month; one for a blueberry balsamic glaze which really added the finishing touch to my rainbow salad, and a recipe for Gluten-free Chocolate and Cointreau Cake .

    Reviews

    It was a great month for pop up food events, as I went to one of Brum Yum Yum’s Lunch Market where 63 Islands and the Cake Doctor were selling their wares for the afternoon.  I also made it along to the Colmore Business District’s annual Food Festival – their best yet.  And not forgetting my first visit to Two Cats Roaming Kitchen, a north-eastern European fine dining pop up and well worth seeking out.

    Plus I visited one of the most hidden away cafes in the city – so hidden I didn’t even know it existed until I went for lunch!

    Product reviewschocolatebombe

    I decided to add in some reviews of more unusual food items I came across, the first being Beanies gingerbread flavour instant coffee, after developing a bit of a habit for gingerbread soya lattes.  I also stumbled across Tyrrell’s Vegetable Crisps when looking for something a bit more interesting in my lunchtime sandwich meal deal, and finally a Selfridges salted almond and crunchy toffee Bombe I found in the sale…I know, chocolate in the sale!

    Coming up in August I have reviews from Two Cats’ July event, the recipe for my favourite blondies, mojito chocolates from Hotel Chocolat, The Electric’s Food Film Club and much much more!